Lubricate well before use…
Now that winter is here, let’s review a few sticking points…
Posted Saturday, 20 January, 2007
In my ‘real job’ many of my customers and prospects are Lubricants Distributors. While this makes my teenagers howl with smirks of double entendre it makes me think of topics less amorous and more painful. I don’t know about you, but this time of year I am compelled to dwell on ways to keep my epidermis inviolate.
It wasn’t until I caught the marathon bug that abrasion became a compelling topic. Any old 5 mile dash doesn’t require any defensive technology. I used to leave the house in the dead of a January eve wrapped in long johns and many layers of cotton sweats. It didn’t matter because I’d be back in front of the wood stove in 40 minutes before any damage was done.
Mr. Marathon and his cohort of long, multi-hour training runs soon cured me of the sweat pants and cotton t-shirt habit. Sweat, when mixed with cotton and rubbed repeatedly over the same spot becomes an excellent whetting agent. That all-purpose sweatshirt you’ve been wearing every day since 1984 becomes as efficient as a rotary sander (with 100 grit sand paper). I’m sure I speak for the majority here when I say there is nothing quite as ‘enlightening’ as that moment you discover, typically in a hot shower, that you have removed a layer of skin from one or many pointy places. “Honey, are you alright? I heard a terrible scream!?”
When you get past a certain point in the race, blister and rash pain becomes secondary to the great and wonderful pain of effort. It’s not until later that the damage becomes particularly uncomfortable.
Technical garments are a boon to our generation. Besides the cool shoes with more engineering than a jet-fighter, we get all kinds of high tech fabrics that coddle our corporeal shells allowing us to shuffle off indefinitely without damaging our mortal coils.
On the coldest of New England race days all I need is a pair of thick tights, a long sleeve technical shirt and my trusty fleece sweater. All the nasty sweat is wicked away from the tender skin. On very cold days the body-water freezes in the fleece like a hard candy shell around a soft vanilla center. I do not suffer from chills as the winter winds howl and buffet like paper dragons. I cinch up my hood, pull down my fuzzy hat and solider on.
Even with this shell of technical impenetrability there are chinks in the armor. At issue is the repetitive rubbing. Even the smallest rub can become like the glassed string of a Middle Eastern kite fighter when spread over a few thousand footfalls.
What are the hot spots? Yours may be different but my hot-list of abrasive bodily locales begins with the nipples. These pointy little bits always stand ready for the abrasive abuse of a few thousand footfalls. I’ve got excellent finish line photos replete with bloody shirts courtesy of Mr. Nipple. It’s not so much that it hurts, it’s just nasty. I’ve had these little injuries begin secondary eruptions that have ruined business shirts and disturbed business partners days after the race.
The next spot for me is the inner thighs. Now many of my ‘real runner’ friends don’t have this problem because they are so skinny that you can see daylight right up to their episiotomy scars. If you’re like me, and, I would imagine, the majority of mid-packers, your thighs are “more muscular” and rub together. This is problem is more prevalent when wearing shorts and is mostly abated by bike shorts and tights. Still, no one wants to be walking like a bow-legged cow herd for a week while the skin on the inside of their legs re-grows. It is very uncomfortable.
The next bit that requires lubrication, especially when wearing tights, is technically referred to as the perineum. Think of that part of the body most in contact with a bicycle seat. For those of us with Neanderthal heritage there may be some hair tangling issues mixed in with this one too.
The last major culprit of skin distress is, as Austin Powers would say, “the wedding tackle”. Depending on your particular body type there are some extremely sensitive pointy bits in this category. Abrasion here can be miserable. It can turn the post race celebratory to post race celibacy.
Finally there are a couple lesser areas of rubbing that can be hit if you truly want to end up unscathed. Many people get a red strip right behind the armpit where the swinging arm meets the latissimus dorsi. On rare occasions I’ve also given myself a stubble burn from forgoing a shave before a race. That’s my list. I’m sure you have yours. How do you prevent it?
Early on I applied the ubiquitous Vaseline or other petroleum jelly. This works fine for about an hour and a half, then it degenerates and becomes useless if not reapplied. At some point the degraded petroleum jelly seems to make matters worse. This is why you will sometimes see volunteers offering tongue depressors with gobs of petroleum jelly in the latter miles of some long races. Those are not energy treats. They are for refreshing your abrasion defense if Vaseline is your weapon of choice. I wonder, how many disoriented runners have actually eaten these offerings?
There are lubricants now that are engineered specifically for runners and they work well. A product called Aquafor was given away liberally at races and expos over the last couple years. It works great and stands up to the full 26.2. Besides the fact that it works great, the sample size tube they give out fits right into a key pocket. There is a generic equivalent at your favorite pharmacy chain that seems to do the trick too.
The other runner favorite is Body Glide that comes in a speed-stick for easy application. From experience I can honestly say that these two lubes are far superior to petroleum jelly and will get you through your long runs unscathed. Apply a finger-full of these lubes to your hot-spots and your skin will love you for it at the post race party. You can also rub a little on your face to prevent windburn.
The only caveat is that these products can be messy. They may permanently stain some of your technical shirts and will definitely stain a cotton shirt. I suppose all that nipple blood would stain the shirts too, so it’s probably an easy choice.
Band-Aids don’t work on nipples. To clarify, they don’t work on my nipples. Two reasons, first is that I sweat them off in less than 10 minutes of running. Second is that I’ve got an abundance of fur that prevents them from getting a good grip for adhesion. It’s probably a good thing because getting them off would be like a body wax experience.
One of my ‘real runner’ friends swears by Nip-guards. He says that they work perfectly and he can reuse them for multiple applications. These are little adhesive donuts that surround the pointy bit and protect it directly.
I made a grave mistake in this regard at the Chicago Marathon in 1999. I was wandering the pre-race expo and came across a booth offering free samples of a product to protect skin. This product was a mole-skin type adhesive patch that could be cut into the appropriate shape and stuck on top of the places where rubbing was imminent. While chatting with the booth people I remarked how Band-Aids were useless and fell off as soon as I started sweating. They assured me that this product would not fall off.
I took the free sample and shaped a little oval patch for each nipple. I applied my improvised pasties in the morning. Sure enough they didn’t fall off. As a matter of fact I finally had to cut them of three days later with much skin and hair loss. Be careful what you wish for.
The bottom line is that there is no honor or glory in self mutilation through distance running. As gnarly as those bloody finish line photos are, all that suffering is quite unnecessary. Good technical clothes and the right salve will keep your skin on your body where it belongs. A little preparation will allow you to just say ‘no’ to the post race shower from hell.
Find the proper lubricant, grease yourself up and meet me at the starting line.
See you out there.
Cool Running Note:
Chris has just finished writing his first book. The Mid-Packer’s Lament is a series of short stories on long distance running, racing and the human comedy inherent in all sports enthusiasts, but prevalent in the mid-pack. This is a book for runners and wannabe runners. There are stories about training, eating, special places and special races. There are stories about the accidental athlete in all of us and the stupid things we do for even amateur endeavors. Whether you are a weekend mid-pack runner or a competitive club runner, you’ll find something thought provoking and amusing that you can relate to in the Mid-Packer’s Lament. Cool Running encourages you to buy the book. You can find Chris’ book of running stories at Amazon